Grace and I ride the electric cart
up the rocky canyon of the Xia Yan River
stop for juice at the crazy bridges crossing
choosing the one with rollers to reach the other side.
A boatman urges us to rent his bamboo raft,
poling along beside the path to persuade us.
Above us oaks and pines begin to appear
in the crevices of the high cliffs.
Around us families, all Chinese,
enjoy the scenery, the water,
the funny ways of my lady and me.
We are the only westerners in this beautiful canyon.
Grace rests at a riverside shop
with necklaces, bracelets, and cold drinks.
I walk up the river far beyond the reach of electric carts,
photographing flowers, ferns,
a butterfly at rest on a fan of white flowers..
I watch the light and shadows move across
a high mountain valley rising above me.
I pass a dozen rickshas sitting at odd angles
their bearers too engaged in a card game by the river
to invite me to ride like the leisure class of old.
Far up the canyon an old man sits on a stone by the path.
He speaks loudly to me hoping to break through my ignorance.
Finally he carefully unwraps the cloth covered box
he has carried for many kilometers,
opens its lid, and holds up a still frozen bar of sweet green ice.
He motions me to sit on a stone beside him
to enjoy this amazing delight.
When I return to Grace she is using our phrase book
to talk with the woman who sells necklaces and snacks.
You’d think they were dear old friends,
the way they look at each other.
She admires my lady’s earrings and Grace makes them a gift.
Her new friend’s face opens like the clearing sky
I saw lighting the mountains
just beyond the place where the butterfly rested.
Was it my great grandpa?
Or my great-great grandpa
that sailed here from that
wet, green land,
fleeing bad potatoes and pitiless rich men,
Planted all one variety, against common sense,
oh but they were tasty,
until the black rot came.
And millions died.
So he set forth,
that great or great-great young man.
To a country where, shortly,
Irish Need Not Apply.
To South Dakota
the wild prarie land.
To a life free, at least,
of the bloody bastards that
killed so many of his own.
A photograph of
solemn children in Sunday best,
arranged by size from tallest
Grandpa somewhere in the middle.
Grandpa and I.
Both bald and smiling
at one another,
we look alike.
The Clancy brothers sang
throughout my childhood.
I sang with them,
learning every word of angry rebel songs
and sweet sweet love songs.
I was ashamed to be an American,
it was the ’60’s ya know.
So it was Up the Irish and
up the IRA too,
Cuchullain and Boadaicea my heroes.
a sense of national pride,
I became a sympathizer
with those who blew up
men, women and children.
They had a right after all,
freedom fighters for a
for outright genocide.
The paper today
said its been 150 years
since the time of the potato blight
and empty stomachs.
Starvation first, then
typhoid and cholera.
Bodies too weak to resist.
And millions died.
The grain the could have
the grain grown by them,
shipped to England.
While they died.
Millions more fled
to Canada and America.
Human ballast for
returning to clear-cut more forests
that did not belong to them.
Raping a new frontier,
not content with having just raped
a small green island.
Seven weeks it took,
locked below with
dead and dying.
So crowded that children
shared beds with their dead
brothers and sisters.
My great or great-great granda
came this way
Was he born on the ship?
I dont recall the story exactly.
It must have been a
nightmare upon nightmare.
I hope that the clean, clear
the prarie hills and wildflowers,
the call of a hawk
soaring high above,
cleansed his mind.
Of his black dreams
of the black rot,
the black hold.
And that a warm
black Badlands night,
pierced with a million stars
for a million dead,
held him close.
If I put this poem into an envelope
address it to you in the Bardos
will Jaime find a way to get it to you?
Or perhaps I should drop it in a creek
flowing down to the sea . . .
After a busy dry day I break down
leaning against the kitchen sink
shaking, seeing you not here, not here
not here wearing your flowery silk robe
not here, smiling as I hand you half a honey tangerine.
Not here . . .
How can I possibly say, “Not here”
when I see across our round oak table
(Uncl’n Alan’s gift in 1963)
your flowery red silk robe
a red box full of Tibetan mandalas
your books — Peace is Every Step
Exploring the Labyrinth
Pema’s No Time to Lose
There’s Hanuman leaping into the air
carrying the Universe to safety
(you brought him to me from China in 1980).
On the bookshelf slender Ganesh
dances to remove obstacles
dances to bless new beginnings.
March 7, 2014
A month now since you left.
BJay took your elegant clothes
(the ones you were waiting
for a special occasion to wear)
to the Sali and consignment shops.
Your closet’s empty now.
I’m still eating your rosemary crackers
your dried stawberries and apricots
all the treats I’d stocked up for you . . .
perhaps my magic to keep you alive.
Your bottle of Proseco sits in the fridge
awaiting a last toast to you.
Dozens of lilies on the front porch
are rising up to bloom for you soon
but your fragrant sweet peas
aren’t ready to flower.
I’m not ready to stop grieving,
missing you, my long-time lover
with a pain deeper than a bear’s bite.
Maybe, My Lady,
after fifty-seven years
I’ve just started to know you.